Richard Kluft MD PhD

  • Education:
  • Board certifications: Psychiatry
  • Other qualifications: Certification in Psychoanalytic Training, Psychoanalytic Center of Philadelphia (1994)
  • License: MD011120E (Pennsylvania)
  • Office: 111 Presidential Boulevard Suite 238, Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania 19004, (610) 228-4482

Notable Titles and Acts:

Richard Kluft is in some ways the scientific architect of the Satanic Panic. His early clinical interest was in hypnosis, and he was writing on its use in the treatment of multiple personality disorder (MPD) already in 1982. In 1983, he founded the International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation (ISSTD; then the International Society for the Study of Multiple Personality) with seven colleagues. Kluft’s writing during the 1980s was prolific and focused almost exclusively on MPD, later rebranded as Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID). He also served as a consultant to “several hundred colleagues working with patients suffering [MPD] over the 15 year period 1973-1988.” His writing, editorial work, consulting work, and role in the ISSTD's annual conferences place him among the most dominant forces spreading the MPD message to the larger therapeutic community in the 1980s. He also helped produce the videotape "Ritual Child Abuse: A Professional Overview" for Cavalcade Productions in 1989.

Kluft was a member of the Advisory Committee tasked with revising the Dissociative Disorders portion of the DSM upon its update to the DSM-III-R in 1987. The committee implemented two principal changes to the category: the role of MPD was emphasized by placing first among the subtypes of Dissociative Disorders, and the role of memory was codified as playing a central role by including it among the “essential features” of Dissociative Disorders. Kluft also argued against the requirement of amnesia for MPD patients on the grounds that it would lead to underdiagnosis, as such patients often exhibit “amnesia for amnesia” early in therapy, only to realize the full extent of their own supposed traumatic history after significant time spent with the therapist. The academic rationale for the committee’s decisions was provided largely by Kluft’s own research. These changes to the DSM pushed MPD further into the mainstream, and moreover added a veneer of legitimacy to the recovered memory practices employed in its treatment.

Kluft’s style of treatment favored long, uninterrupted sessions that subjected the patient to tight physical and behavioral constraints. In a 1987 paper, he wrote that “Interviewees must be prevented from taking breaks to regain composure, averting their faces to avoid self-revelation, etc. In one recent case of singular difficulty, the first sign of dissociation was noted in the sixth hour, and a definitive spontaneous switching of personalities occurred in the eighth hour.” With these draconian techniques, Kluft has diagnosed innumerable cases of MPD/DID. In one case, the number of “alter” personalities totaled a staggering 4,500. Hardly surprising, given that during these marathon sessions, he "interprets almost any behavior as evidence of possible MPD."

Throughout the 1980s and into the early 1990s, a string of high-profile cases alleging the ritualized sexual abuse of children appeared rather suddenly, and was quickly spun into a macabre mass conspiracy wherein the abuses were alleged to be taking place at the hands of organized intergenerational Satanic cults. In virtually all of these cases, the bizarre allegations came to light over the course of many hours and weeks of interviews of the children by therapists steeped in the narrative that MPD arises as a manifestation of childhood trauma. In these sessions, the targets of the accusations often expanded, sometimes netting hundreds of charges against dozens of adults, as the memories of the children were recovered in therapy. Ultimately, almost all charges were dropped and convictions overturned, in several cases coming at a hefty price tag in the form of compensation for damages suffered by the falsely accused. The whole episode is generally regarded as a modern-day witch-hunt, and as an embarrassing stain on the history of American jurisprudence, typically referred to as the Satanic Panic.

In the long wake of these events, Kluft has continued to speak openly about some of the most bizarre and conspiratorial claims dredged up in the memories recovered by his patients, and gives every indication of taking them quite literally. Debbie Nathan wrote in Sybil Exposed (pp. 234-5) about a talk Kluft gave at the 2009 ISSTD annual conference. In it, he recounts grim abuses suffered by a long-time patient of his at the hands of the Ku Klux Klan and high-ranking generals in the US military, who had kidnapped and tortured her. Nathan noted that “Kluft expressed no doubt that her story was true.” Also in 2009, on the popular CBS show "Sunday Morning," he expressed belief in a hidden epidemic of thousands, if not more, undiagnosed cases of Dissociative Identity Disorder -- an allegedly rare disorder, per the DSM.

Kluft has been the subject of at least three malpractice lawsuits. The first is under gag order and little is known about it, and another was quickly dismissed. The patient in the remaining suit had been diagnosed with MPD by Kluft, who initiated a program of treatment in the form of recovered memory therapy utilizing drugs and hypnosis. She alleged in 1996 that she was ultimately coerced into the false belief that she had suffered childhood sexual abuse at the hands of her father and encouraged to break ties with her parents. The Dissociative Disorders Program at The Institute of Pennsylvania Hospital, of which Kluft was the director, was named as a co-defendant in this suit, and was shut down in 1996. The case would ultimately be settled for an undisclosed amount in 1998 (Marietti, et al., v. Kluft, Dissociative Disorders Program and Institute of the Pennsylvania Hospital, Ct. of Common Pleas, Phila. Co., Penn., No. 9509-02260).

Kluft has publicly expressed his views on MPD/DID and memory recovery, in light of the criticism of it and his role in purveying it, as one of open-mindedness in the pursuit of scientific truth. Conversely, he has lambasted his critics and those of the practices he has championed as “pseudo-skeptics” whose “invidious” brand of skepticism is motivated by nothing more than “self-congratulation” and “confirmatory bias.” In this vein, the inaugural issue of Dissociation (peer-reviewed house journal of the ISSTD) featured an editorial by Kluft in which he writes that the journal “will witness the dissolution of what Boorstin (1983) has described as 'the obstacles to discovery - the illusions of knowledge (p. xv).'" The reference is to Boorstin's book The Discoverers. Boorstin was indeed fascinated with the human pursuit of knowledge, and wrote extensively on it. In a later essay called "The Amateur Spirit," Boorstin offers us the following: "I have observed that the world has suffered far less from ignorance than from pretensions to knowledge. It is not skeptics or explorers but fanatics and ideologues who menace decency and progress. No agnostic ever burned anyone at the stake or tortured a pagan, a heretic, or an unbeliever."


In His Own Words: